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Windows on the World

How the customer service panels on slot machines are changing how casinos do business

Windows on the World

Slot machines have become gaming command centers, literal windows of opportunity.

What began four years ago as a process to personalize cashback, promotions, show ticket information and drink ordering capability—all in a portion of the machine—continues to expand.

Technology now links these machines to tournaments, unites scores of players for particular games and enables special events. It has enhanced what was already a significant industry breakthrough.

Operators of the technology fit into two camps, depending upon when they received it. Many still unveil the concept to their customers. Some who have the product already expand it, even producing events large enough to enter the Guinness Book of World Records.

“I would put iVIEW Display Manager (Bally’s version of the product) in the realm of advancement comparable to going from coin to bill validators to ticketing,” says Tom Boyle, the vice president of product management for Bally Technologies. “We feel that we have opened up the possibility of taking a game screen and making it so that you can reach out to each individual player. It’s almost like having a kiosk at every slot machine.”

Patrons and the house have both capitalized. Players obtain instant amenities and avoid several lines. Operators savor the utopian merge of mass-marketing and technology. Customer service slot windows become a promotional offer that is sure to be seen, not lost in a residential mailbox. This technology enables longer machine play.

Many elements of today’s immediacy—high-speed internet, social media, smart phones and “that was so four seconds ago”—converge in this interactive smorgasbord.

The technology has several brand names, with iVIEW DM joined by the Service Window from International Game Technology and nCompass from Aristocrat. Konami Gaming will unveil its own version at the Global Gaming Expo in October.

Service First

IGT scored a significant coup by gaining the casino management system account for Revel in Atlantic City earlier this year. A couple thousand brand new machines come attached, more or less, to an on-screen marketing rep.

“The Service Window is both revolutionary and evolutionary,” says Javier Saenz, the executive director of systems products for IGT. “Having the 2.5-by-5-inch screens was a terrific breakthrough for the industry about 15 years ago, but now it’s being used in a different way. This whole notion of direct marketing to players really works. It is a huge step forward for the gaming industry to be able to provide offers in real time. This is a continuation of that process. This is efficient, effective and interactive.”

Saenz believes it’s not difficult to blend player preference with marketing philosophy.

“Operators can put a mini-website right in front of the player on the game screen they are playing,” he says. “They can engage the customer while the customer is engaging the product. For a long time, this has been elusive. Now you have the operator controlling the content, personalizing the information, and you have communication going back and forth. It’s a dynamic experience.

“When I worked in operations (Harrah’s in Lake Tahoe), I used to joke that I wished my customers would go home so that I could market to them,” Saenz laughs. “We had direct marketing, customer databases, etc., and I wanted to get that message to them.

“Now, here it is right on the screen, and we know the players want to engage in the game, so we can do it without being disruptive or interruptive. You see a message that here is good news, or that you’ve won something. The message is delivering free play or money. It’s not as disruptive as some might think.

“Players today expect this type of interaction. Nobody carries around a phone that’s only a phone; people want to be able to access their personal information on it. The same principle applies here, and we can do it simply enough.”

Saenz mirrors industry sentiment about the innovation providing extended play. Patrons don’t leave to linger in ticket or promotion lines. Another subtlety can involve a free meal offer. It may add another round of play for gamblers who decide to stop and eat, feel refreshed and resume playing instead of leaving.

“You’re in my house; I can tell you that we have a comp room for you,” Saenz says. “If you have come in from out-of-state and have flexibility, perhaps you stay for an extra night.”

Saenz says all new IGT machines have the Service Windows and old ones can be retrofitted with the company’s Universal Game Adaptor, introduced last year. He believes the next major step will come from software developers, now that IGT has begun tapping into them for ideas and applications. Anyone with Adobe Flash capability can develop applications to sell IGT or a property directly. One glimpse at the future already excites him.

“We have an application called Team Challenge,” he says. “The operator can figure the criteria and then divide the floor up into teams. You can have a leader board, everybody assigned to a team, and that can be pertinent to a tournament, a car race—you name it. The winning team always wins a prize, which is provided by the house.”


Viewing Success

Bally Technologies’ iVIEW DM takes a video signal and mixes it with a game signal to create a multi-purpose screen. It can be enhanced, reduced or moved to different parts of the machine.

The iVIEW DM system allows operators to present player account information, media content, and directed marketing messages right on to the main game screen or top screen. The system turns gaming machines that have video displays using industry-standard protocols into delivery systems for customized marketing at the point of play.

Players and properties share in the experience. Operators can formulate different messages to players to discover even more about them. Boyle says time on machine and play has at times increased 10-30 percent.

“The casino also gets to know about you,” he says. “They may find out you like golf and tell you about an upcoming tournament. They may discover you like country music and send you information about a Toby Keith concert.”

Flexibility is paramount, he says. Casinos like Pechanga in California pioneered the “Virual Racing” application, in which all players with club cards inserted are invited to pick one of several horses that appear on the iVIEW display. The virtual race then runs on a portion of the screen (players can expand it to the entire screen if they want), with cash prizes for all who picked the winner.

Virtual Racing is rapidly expanding to other Bally-equipped casinos—the South Point in Las Vegas became the latest to launch it last month.

“It’s up to each casino to decide what percentage of the game we take over,” Boyle says. “In many cases, it’s up to about 30 percent of the screen. They try not to affect the game performance, but they can also allow players to check on things. Each casino designs its own content.”

And the technology determes the flexibility. In the horse-racing example, it pertained to quick communication. In a more dramatic example, people who used the technology thought big. They brought in a tournament for the ages.

Bally earned a Guinness world record in February at Pechanga, for most slot machines running a tournament simultaneously at the same venue. The slot tournament featured more than 1,100 players simultaneously competing, using slot cabinets made by five different manufacturers.

Over the course of three rounds, 2,285 patrons competed throughout the casino floor for their share of more than $100,000 in prizes in the free tournament.

Then, presto, the machines were switched back to revenue mode within a few minutes, while patrons were still pumped up. And they couldn’t play real dollars fast enough.

“Pechanga scored some of its best revenues ever that weekend,” says Buddy Frank, vice president of slot operations at Pechanga. “This period is usually slow, but the event helped produce coin-in and win that was exceeded in the last two years only by New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day of 2011.

“I think the real difference between this event and a so-called normal slot tournament is that once it was over—with the guests all excited from the competition—all of the machines converted back to standard play in less than 15 minutes. I’ve dreamed of this for years.”

 

Showing the Way

Aristocrat Technologies got its latest service-window boost this year when its nCompass technology found its way to Maryland Live! and Scioto Downs via nearly 6,000 machines.

“This is a significant breakthrough,” says Kelly Shaw, the vice president of systems, sales and marketing for Aristocrat North America. “This is not the normal course of business. What helps separate us is our ability to integrate our bonusing product, with names like Splashdown Countdown, Riccochet Rewards, etc. into the system. This helps increase the amount of time customers are playing their games.”

The system provides benefits customers expect, like bonus-point tallies and the ability to download and transfer points. With Maryland Live! being slot-driven, this component may be even more valuable, as the property has fewer on-site vehicles than its counterparts to promote its special attractions.

“There is a lot to be said for having players able to access anything they want from the casino floor,” Shaw says. “Can I access my valet parking ticket? Can I print out tickets to a show at the game while I am playing? Can I access my buffet coupon? Can I go online and check out something through the web browsers?”

For customers, most of those answers are yes. All that matters at this point is the nuance.

Aristocrat is also endorsed by Alex Goodnature, a marketing and promotional specialist at Chumash Casino in California. He says the nCompass system is embedded in the game, making it easier for customers to get the casino message without being distracted by the game. Goodnature says nCompass is an improvement over previous products used for this purpose at his property.

 

New Kid On The Block

Konami Gaming observed the service-window evolution carefully. It aims to take the principle to another level after its G2E unveiling in October.

“We think marketing at the point of play has been going on for years,” says Michael Ratner, director of systems product management for Konami. “When you put your loyalty card into the reader and see your points, etc., you already have that. That same information has now been simply put on the game screen.

“It is all good and well that you can order your drinks and get show tickets, etc. But is that huge or is that not? I think what this gives the industry is the ability to deliver bonus games and bonusing events via the system across the entire floor. That, to me, is the breakthrough.”

Konami is going to offer its own games and multiple themes through the service window, allowing operators to shift their lineups on different days.

“One day you can use a horse-racing theme,” he says. “In the next, you can run a stock car race. Tomorrow it’s an air race, etc. We are going to have a library of themes constantly being developed.

“There are two benefits overall,” he says. “Before this, a player may be so engrossed in the game and may not have been aware of bonuses awaiting his attention. If you put it more of this system-delivered content right in his line of sight, that gives you bigger real estate. Once you have that bigger real estate, now the fancy things can really happen. You can have racing events, camel races, anything you want with a big canvas to show bonus applications.”

That can lead to, well, a window of opportunity. Will the expansion of customer service slot windows produce a new element of games?

“Whoever owns the system owns the floor,” Ratner says. “It adds a lot more excitement. Think about the community spirit when you have a floor-wide event that everyone is playing. Every machine is connected. You are not playing in your own world any more; you are playing the same game as the person next to you. Imagine this with a stock car kind of race, everybody cheering and screaming for their car to win.

“This is a wonderful tool for an operator to have. You start to unite the players on the floor with content delivered from a single source. The excitement is already there, because the players have qualified for this game, they see it and they participate in it.”

Ratner, a veteran operator with experience ranging from South Africa to Biloxi, considers this slot-gaming utopia.

“I would have given my left arm to have this several years ago,” he says.

Now he can enjoy the technology—and keep his arm.

Casino Connection Sports Editor Dave Bontempo is an award-winning sports writer and broadcaster who calls boxing matches all over the world. He has covered the Philadelphia Flyers in the playoffs, as well as numerous PGA, LPGA and Seniors Golf Tour events, and co-hosted the Casino Connection television program with Publisher Roger Gros.

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